In the eight seasons I've projected an NCAA Tournament bracket, I have never had such a difficult time in seeding the field and creating a bracket. After watching Sunday's Selection Show, it seems the Selection Committee will probably leave Indianapolis with similar feelings. Here are some of my thoughts on this season's results.
I whiffed on just one at-large, as the Selection Committee selected Middle Tennessee instead of Tennessee, much to their credit. That's an improvement of one from last season, though I'm giving myself a demerit for snubbing the Blue Raiders. From a seeding perspective, I did almost precisely as well as I did in 2012. Just like last season, I had 59 teams placed on or within a seed line (compared to 53 back in 2011). The difference is that I had one more team seeded correctly this time around (36 vs. 35). Six teams were off by two lines (five in 2012), one by three (two last year) and one off by a whopping five. More on that particular case in a bit.
I don't know if you can actually say Tennessee was snubbed, considering the flaws on each of the profiles of the teams in play for the final few at-large spots. Selection Committee chairman Mike Bobinski said in his CBS post-reveal interview that his group sought to reward teams that could win on the road. Well, the Volunteers were below .500 away from Thompson-Boling Arena (6-9). Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee went 13-5 away from Murfreesboro, with a target on its back in the majority of those games -- since the Blue Raiders were the overwhelming Sun Belt favorite this season. St. Mary's won 11 of its 16 games played on the road or at neutral sites. If performance away from home was more important than quality victories this season, which seems to be the case, the other SEC bubble teams -- Kentucky (5-9 away from Rupp Arena), Alabama (7-9) and Arkansas (a beyond woeful 1-12) never had a chance.
The Top Seeds
This season, I've stressed that the Committee's track record is to reward teams that have won conference championships -- regular season, tournament and, preferably, both. So, the double championships won by Louisville (remember they earned a share of the Big East regular season crown) and Kansas appear to have pushed them both ahead of Indiana, a team that was granted the first No. 1 seed back on Saturday, according to Bobinski. In short, the Hoosiers' inability to beat bogey team Wisconsin likely cost them a shot at playing in the Midwest regional in their backyard.
A double championship also likely pushed Gonzaga past Georgetown (another Big East regular-season co-champ) and Ohio State (which won only the Big Ten Tournament, and at a very late hour to boot) in the pecking order. But what about Miami, which earlier in the day claimed the ACC Tournament title to complete its own double? Again, I suspect that those bad late losses to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest may have knocked the Hurricanes down the list.
As for Miami's ACC rivals from Duke, the lack of a title of any sort kept them stuck on the No. 2 line, as I anticipated.
Bracketing Mysteries And Tidbits
The most jaw-dropping seeding decision from my perspective was announced very early in the Selection Show, when Oregon, which I had pegged as a No. 7 seed after its victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game last night, was announced as a 12. Even if the Ducks were shifted down from an 11 seed for procedural reasons, as Bobinski claimed, I'm still surprised with the difference in perception. The only rational explanation that I can come up with is that the Committee was not impressed with Oregon's play with Dominic Artis out or playing limited minutes.
Come to think of it, many of my criticisms are Mountain and Pacific time zone-centric.
- I'm a bit surprised UCLA earned a six seed with a key cog, Jordan Adams, out the rest of the way.
- New Mexico's position on the three line, as opposed to the two, is questionable given the Lobos' 10 wins against the RPI Top 50 and 19 Top 100 victories. However, looking at how Colorado State and Boise State were seeded, I'm tempted to say that Mountain West squads didn't receive enough respect. However, UNLV's and San Diego State's higher seedings than expected temper that line of thought.
- Speaking of the Runnin' Rebels, one of the biggest issues I had this weekend in building projections was keeping California away from UNLV and Wisconsin, two teams it met during the regular season. So while I'm surprised the Selection Committee ended up pairing Cal and UNLV together in San Jose, the Golden Bears' backyard, I can understand that such a rematch is possible when you're trying to construct a bracket during a limited amount of time, like a Sunday afternoon when results are still in flux. For example, the Committee also managed to set up a potential Butler-Marquette Third Round rematch in Lexington on Saturday.
Florida's South region draw features a couple of familiar names. First, UCLA -- a team the Gators have eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in 2006, 2007 and 2011 -- is a potential Third Round opponent in Austin. If Billy Donovan's team advances past the first weekend, it's possible the nation gets to see a quasi-rematch of the Opening Night boat game against Georgetown that was canceled at halftime.
Round of 64 Games To Watch
No. 9 Missouri vs. No. 8 Colorado State: The Tigers were an awful 2-8 in true road games this season, but finished a respectable 4-2 in neutral court contests. It will be interesting to see how they handle a Rams squad that dominates on the boards in Lexington.
No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State: The Ducks should be motivated based on their perceived seeding snub. Plus, they'll likely have a lot of fan support in San Jose.
No. 12 Akron vs. No. 5 VCU: Honestly, I'm a bit surprised the Zips were granted a 12 seed given that their starting point guard, Alex Abreu, won't be playing in the Tournament. I seriously doubt Keith Dambrot's team will be able to cope with the Rams' havoc without him.
No. 11 Minnesota vs. No. 6 UCLA: The Golden Gophers, who have pretty much been terrible lately, must be thankful for this matchup, thanks to the fact the Bruins are suddenly shorthanded.
No. 12 California vs. No. 5 UNLV: The Runnin' Rebels escaped Berkeley with a one-point win back on December 9th. Will the second time be the charm for the Golden Bears?
No. 11 Bucknell vs. No. 6 Butler: Two of the biggest stars in mid-major basketball, the Bison's Mike Muscala and the Bulldogs' Rotnei Clarke, will enter Rupp Arena. Only one will move on to the Third Round.
No. 12 Mississippi vs. No. 5 Wisconsin: Only one of America's two favorite basketball villains, Marshall Henderson or Bo Ryan, will be around for the weekend. Fans, at least you have that going for you.
The Toughest Region
Obviously, this nod goes to the Midwest. Louisville, the national No. 1 seed, will earn its place in Atlanta if it gets through this gauntlet. First, No. 2 seed Duke, a team that had a strong case for its own top seed, and third-seeded Michigan State await on the other side of the bracket. In the Cardinals' half, potential danger lurks in the Sweet Sixteen if No. 4 seed Saint Louis, another excellent defensive team, makes it past its San Jose pod.
Honorable mention goes to the East, which sees two potential top seeds, Indiana and Miami, in the top two positions and troublesome Butler and Marquette teams in the Hurricanes' half of the draw. Plus, if Syracuse is focused on offense and defense, the Orange can give the Hoosiers problems.
In the South, Kansas and Georgetown, again two possible No. 1s, are the clear favorites, particularly if Michigan and Florida stumble, which is possible. As for the West, Gonzaga and New Mexico would earn a lot of deserved national respect if they can quiet the doubters and keep Ohio State out of the Final Four.
I'll have my picks for all 67 games on Tuesday morning.